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Aquaculture Seafood


Shetland mussel farming sector rides the crest of a wave

Shetland mussel farming sector rides the crest of a wave

Shetland is by far Scotland’s biggest farmed mussel producing region – and according to the managing director of one of the isles’ major mussel producers, the prospects look good.

The recently published Scottish Shellfish Farm Production Survey 2023 reveals that nearly 8,700 tonnes of mussels were produced in Shetland in 2023, which is more than 80 per cent of Scotland’s total. This figure is around 1,500 tonnes greater than 2022.

Shetland’s production in 2023 had a value of around £9.7 million – an increase from £7.3 million in 2022.  Shetland also produced 3,000 Pacific oysters in 2023.

In terms of employment, there are 58 full-time staff involved in the shellfish industry in Shetland, 21 part-time and 12 casual workers. There are 148 active shellfish producing sites in Shetland.

Michael Tait, managing director of Shetland Mussels Ltd, told Fish Focus: “Shetland’s mussel sector has continued to perform well due to our pristine waters and sustainable practices, helping to keep us at the forefront of Scotland’s shellfish aquaculture industry.

“There are always challenges when working so closely with nature but with ongoing innovation and our commitment to quality we think the prospects remain positive.”

Ruth Henderson, chief executive of Seafood Shetland, said: “The production figures reflect the demand for Shetland’s premium quality product in what remains challenging trading conditions for the service sector, as the cost of living continues to reduce disposable income.”

She added: “Shellfish is a highly nutritious and environmentally sustainable source of protein that has an important role to play in feeding an expanding global population.

“The shellfish production industry is an important part of the wider seafood sector that sustains jobs, supports our rural communities, and contributes significantly to the wider economy. It is why we continue to stress upon the Scottish Government the importance of having adequate freight capacity to meet our islands current and future transport needs.”

According to the annual shellfish survey, and for Scotland as a whole, prices of farmed shellfish fluctuated throughout the year. Their value at first sale vary with demand, level of production and geographical area of origin. The average price of Pacific oyster was £0.61 per shell; native oyster, £0.93 per shell; king scallop, £2.18 per shell; and common mussel £1,116 per tonne.

In 2023, the total value at first sale for all species was calculated at approximately £14.1 million, an increase of 36% from the £10.4 million estimated in 2022.

Meanwhile, according to the survey, a risk-based surveillance programme targeting 133 shellfish site inspections was undertaken throughout Scotland during 2023. On these visits, facilities, stock health, bio-security measures plans, movement records and details required for authorisation were checked. Records were checked remotely for a further 14 sites.

Most of the reported mortalities during 2023 were attributed to: predation from wild ducks, starfish, crabs, urchins and oystercatchers; fouling by sea squirts; adverse weather conditions including storms and temperature extremes; damage due to grading and handling and from natural causes.